Don't go into this one expecting horror. At best this is psychological horror, although there's still not enough to really categorise it as such.
Peau Blanche a.k.a White Skin. 2004. Directed by Daniel Roby. Screenplay by Daniel Roby; based on the novel by Joël Champetier.
Starring Marc Paquet, Marianne Farley, Frédéric Pierre, Jessica Harris, Julie LeBreton, Lise Roy, Joujou Turenne, Raymond Cloutier, Marcel Sabourin, and Jude-Antoine Jarda.
Rated 14A. 89 minutes.
I’ve been a longtime user of the Internet Movie Database, though not a fan of the message boards; mostly I dig trying to level out the ratings even in the slightest sense as one man, as well as doing shorter reviews for a few choice films here and there. As someone who’s seen 4,100 films and counting, I find it hard to just ask people “Hey can you suggest a movie for me?” because honestly – not trying to be grand here like a know-it-all, not trying to impress – but after that many movies it is damn near impossible for most people I know, who aren’t film buffs, to come up with something I’ve not seen. So, I end up turning to a lot of lists; other than a good friend of mine, a filmmaker by the name of Ben Noah, not many people in my circle(s) of friends are actually huge into movie watching.
Many lists, horror and otherwise darkly toned, end up suggesting La peau blanche (English title – which I’ll use from here on out: White Skin). The cover art alone always stuck with me, very literal with the white skin yet intriguing nonetheless. The guy on the front is white but a little less so, his eyes extremely blue. All contrast against the woman, her gingery near blonde hair flowing, then her face and neck almost disappearing into one as a wave of white skin, reddish lips around the middle. I’m often reeled in by interesting artwork for movies, some times this doesn’t work at all. But there’s something about a cool looking poster that can get me interested immediately. Not only that, when I hear words like cannibalism, vampire, succubus – these sorts of things – I tend to perk up even more. Add to all this the fact White Skin is a Canadian film, you’ve got yourself an interesting bit of work.
Thierry (Marc Paquet) and Henri (Frédéric Pierre) end up in a hotel with a couple hookers one night. During their encounter, one of the women attacks Henri, leaving his neck bloody and wounded. While Henri’s family is out for justice, neither he nor Thierry obviously wants to pursue things any further due to the fact of what they’d actually been up to.
A little while later, Thierry ends up seeing a woman in the subway playing the flute. Strangely enough he finds himself attracted to her, even though he earlier admitted to one of the prostitutes that redheads make him sick, all due to their incredibly white skin; he says seeing the veins under the skin turns him off. Yet somehow this woman, Claire Lefrançois (Marianne Farley), turns out to lure him. One night he sneaks in to watch her play piano at a recital. Further and further he’s drawn to Claire, until they start to see one another regularly. Despite the fact she insists they ought not see each other any longer. Thierry falls harder by the minute, almost to the point of physical deterioration. Mentally he begins to slip, from school to everyday life. He discovers Claire has cancer. Of course he stays right by her side.
But once there are even wilder, more dramatic revelations, Thierry discovers an entirely different world existing right below the one he used to know.
“We could discuss what’s eating you”
The U.S. title for this movie is awfully on-the-nose. Too much. Part of the enjoyment here is the slow build. You know there’s something not quite right. Very clearly once Claire starts telling Thierry he should forget her, it’s apparent. But getting there, the journey is what’s important. Cheesy, and true. Not only is there an excellent plot development happening over the course of the film, the weird love story itself is pretty good. I’ve seen complaints in reviews online that this was an area where the screenplay lacked. Now I’ve never read the original novel this is based on, so perhaps that’s got something to do with it in comparison. However, I find the movie has a few amazing scenes where the love story comes out. You might say the entire thing is a love story. It’s more of a mystery, filled with drama and horror. Definitely a dark fantasy sort of feel at times, like a modern day fairy tale. So to each their own. White Skin definitely has an interesting story at its core, as well as it surprised me at times when I had no idea where things were headed.
Even more than all that, the relationships are solid. Particularly I loved Thierry and his friend Henri. They have such a complex dynamic, not usual in a lot of films; something Canadian movies are always doing, the unusual in such a perfect way. There are numerous tense moments between Thierry and Henri, though, they feel like actual friends, as opposed to two characters written into a forced relationship. There are both sides of the coin – good times, bad times. So I think in a short time this friendship comes across well, the actors and the screenplay together make for proper character development between the two.
When all the horror aspects come flooding out, the movie gets fairly tense. Consistently I was never sure what might happen next. And man – did the ending ever catch me by surprise! It’s an odd finish to the film, yet at the same time it was fitting. Completely. It’s as if everything tangles into a big mix near the middle, then the last 15-20 minutes becomes pretty wild in moments, as well as some blood/gore sneaks in. All in all, I found the good relationships + the entire screenplay built up excellent tension. Afterwards, all the mysterious horror which breaks through only serves to be the cherry on top, so to speak. In the end, that big jumble of themes and character/plot development unravels into a nice finale.
I’m giving this a 4 out of 5 star rating. White Skin is a film all Canadians should see, simply to support homegrown cinema. Furthermore, it does a great job with all the elements from drama to mystery to horror. The movie is low budget compared to Hollywood, clocking in with one million dollars. At the same time, I don’t feel there are many instances where the budget shows in a bad sense. Most of the film is shot wonderfully, the actors are pretty much all competent at the very least, so anyone who says this is “too low budget” is only being foolish. Check this one out if you’re into semi-cannibalistic/vampiric stories, dark fantasy, or even if you just love a nice little mystery. Give it a chance. I was very happy with the DVD purchase – rare film, so I found it on eBay. Soon I’ll do a good DVD review, as there are a few quality special features included.
Hellions. 2015. Directed by Bruce McDonald. Screenplay by Pascal Trottier.
Starring Chloe Rose, Robert Patrick, Rossi Sutherland, Rachel Wilson, Luke Bilyk, Peter DaCunha, Emir Hira Mokhtarieh, Nicholas Craig, Sydney Cross, Stephanie Fonceca, Joe Silvaggio, and Karlo William. Storyteller Pictures/Whizbang Films.
Rated 14A. 80 minutes.
Bruce McDonald has always had my stamp of approval for Highway 61 and more importantly Hard Core Logo, a film which personally shaped me as a young teenage Canadian punk rocker (or wannabe anyways). Not only that, it set me off for years on the idea that a mockumentary didn’t have to be mocking anything; it could do plenty serious business while also having a comedic edge. Either way, McDonald has done some real good films, even Dance Me Outside a forgotten gem of Canadian film. 2008’s Pontypool was a refreshing swing (and a hit) at the zombie sub-genre of horror and another reason why I’m glad to see McDonald again veer into horror with this film.
Hellions is, to me, a surprising and in ways a refreshing horror movie. It’s not like other horror movies. I don’t mean it completely subverts the genre, or that it comes with an entirely new and innovative story, however – the way McDonald comes at his themes and the plot is both fun andinteresting. A solid dose of horror, disturbing and also straight up, as well as a refreshingly visual style and creepy atmosphere makes Hellions one of my favourite horror movies of the last 5 years at least.
I could care less what other people say in their reviews. This is mine and I’ll cry if I want to. Shit, that’s not right, is it? Well this is my review and I think I’ve at least got a couple things to say about McDonald’s film, in terms of its horror and often exciting visual experimentation.
17-year old Dora Vogel (Chloe Rose) has a pretty standard teenage life. Her mother Kate (Rachel Wilson) tries to keep life going steadily for them all, which includes little brother Remi (Peter DaCunha).
Unfortunately, Dora misses class one day visiting the doctor and discovers she’s pregnant. As Halloween has rolled around, she finds herself home alone with the news all to herself. Even more unfortunate, far worse for Dora, some trick-or-treaters come knocking while her mother takes Remi out to stockpile candy.
And these are no ordinary little kids in costumes. First it’s a little kid with a creepy bag over his head. Then comes a similar little child with a bucket over theirs instead of a bag. One of them reaches out with a demon-like hand, touching Dora’s belly and says “Mama“…
This begins the hellish Halloween of Dora Vogel.
One thing I loved about Hellions, when it kicks into full Hell Night mode, is how McDonald used the infrared camera. There’s this almost Alice In Wonderland feel, or Wizard of Oz maybe (Dora – Dorothy?), after you can see the infrared begin – a pink hue sets in over almost everything in the frame. This brings a strange quality to a lot of the visuals which McDonald goes for over the course of the film. While I can’t speak for others obviously, it was an intriguing effect to me. It’s not something I’d want to see a bunch of movies use, however, with Hellions I think there’s supernatural horror happening big time and we get this heightened sense of atmosphere with the infrared camera making the whites and the greens so vibrant, as everything stays washed in the pink tones. Great, great stuff. Particularly I couldn’t get enough of how the trees look; the rich greens against the sort of faded pink over everything and the bright white colours throughout, it really is beautiful to look at.
Along with the look this film boasts an awesome, haunting score from Todor Kobakov and Ian LeFeuvre. There are times it has an undeniably 1980s style synth sound. At other moments the film’s score has this throbbing ambient darkness about it, which sort of lays underneath particular scenes and holds the tension tight, as well as snaps it hard to make that tension pay off. Also, there are some great strings thrown in and a terrifying choir singing/child chants alongside to make one dreamy scene beyond unnerving, on top of everything else actually happening in the scene itself. Honestly there are horrors which are made or broken by scores; I personally think this one does Hellions more than enough justice.
Both Chloe Rose and Robert Patrick do a great job with their characters. It’s easy for actors to get lost, their performances I mean, when the visual aspect of a film is so evident and in your face (though I mean that not in a bad way at all obviously). Contrary to that, these two are able to lift their characters above that in order to make them noticeable. The kids are memorable mostly because of the creepiness, the horrific acts they perpetrate and the weirdness involved; these two are memorable without masks, solely based on performance.
Of course Patrick isn’t around as much as Rose, but still, he’s a fun character actor to see in a horror film. Particularly near the end Patrick makes his character really pop out and leaves his mark.
Rose does fantastic work here. She’s got a tough, complex role. On one hand, Dora Vogel is a young, seventeen-year old girl worried about being pregnant. On the other hand, she’s also got to deal with the onslaught of monstrous, demonic children at her door, trick or treating. There’s a lot going on and I think many young actresses might not do so well with the character. She gives us a good deal of range from start to finish. A real solid performance.
Let’s talk horror.
First, we’ve got little kids in some of the creepiest masks I’ve ever witnessed. They’re starting at the door, eventually working their way inside. They make strange noises. They’re actually… demons? Who knows for sure. They’re awful either way, in the best possible sense. Horrific little creatures of the Halloween night.
Secondly come the dream sequences, the trippy little bits. One moment sees Dora trapped in a small shed where blood pours from between her legs, quickly filling up the room around her, as she almost drowns in the reddish waves. Amazingly creepy! This was a brief yet nasty scene, effective definitely. There are bunches of wild imagery going on, what with the infrared camera being used as a real technique in McDonald’s vision, but this was one that stuck with me because I thought it was a knockout.
Also, when Dora sees herself eating a little fetus on the end of a fork – just like she’d earlier done with a pickle – and throwing a bit of salt on top, crunching its little head, I was like “WOW”. That is some gnarly stuff. What a ballsy thing to throw into the movie. Are some people really bent on thinking this movie is pro-life? I would say it’s more pro-choice than anything, especially with imagery like that; this isn’t an informercial about the supposed terror of abortion, which is fucking bullshit anyways, THIS IS A HORROR. McDonald knew what he was doing with this nasty image and it’s not throwing himself into the pro-life camp.
I totally understand why some people might not, and do not/will not, dig this film. That’s fine. Me, I think this could be considered a masterpiece of modern horror. When the final 20 minutes arrive, Hellions plays out like one of the most nightmarish things I’ve ever seen; a fever dream of insanity, dark visions, and body horror. Absolutely a 4.5 out of 5 star horror film. For me, anyways. I get it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Though I’ve got to say, I can’t get over the visuals, the score, and the terror Bruce McDonald brought forward from Pascal Trottier’s screenplay.
Give this is a chance when you’re able to see it; out now on iTunes, if I’m not mistaken. I enjoyed the hell out of it. Can’t wait until this is out on Blu ray because I’ll be combing through it more and more, over and over. There’s plenty of symbolism and imagery throughout the entirety of the film. Maybe it isn’t as concrete and “normal” as some might have wanted it to be. At the very least you’ve got to give it to McDonald; this is one innovative, weird little horror flick.
The Captive. 2014. Dir. Atom Egoyan. Screenplay by Egoyan & David Fraser.
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Scott Speedman, Rosario Dawson, Mireille Enos, Kevin Durand, Alexia Fast, Peyton Kennedy. Ego Film Arts.
112 minutes. Rated PG.
Canadian director Atom Egoyan is no stranger to telling stories in unique ways, often fragmenting plots into non-linear narrative. His style comes through no differently, although never so full of twists and turns, in his latest film The Captive – a dark thriller starring Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds and featuring other homegrown talents such as Scott Speedman and The Strain‘s Kevin Durand. Egoyan’s film treads through uncomfortable and treacherous territory to tell the story of a little girl named Cassandra (Kennedy/Fast) who is kidnapped from a roadside diner right under her father’s nose.
After eight years, traces of the girl surface online in cryptic bits and pieces. By this time, her parents have all but gone crazy and divorced. The father (Reynolds) takes things into his own hands while the police seem focused on treating him as a suspect. However, at the beginning of the film Egoyan clearly gives up the kidnapper’s identity, and for good reason.
Egoyan likes to play with the depiction of past and present in many of his films. In The Captive, he takes the story from one point to another, leaping from the day of the kidnapping to eight years later, all without ever directly communicating a time shift. The film plays with its audience, putting us directly in the shoes of those whose lives have been shaken by the kidnapping of Cassandra; for the people who loved her, each day is the day she was taken, each day it gets tougher to move on because they live in the past.
This is a film concerned with real life exploitation of children as much as it with examining how innovative technology allows predators into people’s homes. Still, there are times the plot requires a little suspension of disbelief.
For instance, in one scene an elaborate “trail” is created to lead the father out onto a deserted road for a surprise meeting. If Egoyan had chosen a different route to reach the same point it may have played out well. Instead it may lead some people to deem it unbelievable.
However, this scene plays out in an almost surreal way. Many of Egoyan’s films take on fairy tale-like qualities, this moment being one of those. He likes to play with things in this way, substituting character types of regular thrillers for those you might often find in folklore. Not everything is done in this manner, but Egoyan absolutely works in this method in almost every one of his films.
I can’t say The Captive is my favourite entry into this great Canadian director’s filmography, preferring his work in Exotica or the devastatingly emotional The Sweet Hereafter. That being said, this is a great watch. Reynolds especially puts in a wonderful performance; the ‘tortured dad in search of his daughter’ is a character often used in film, yet he feels fresh here, balancing calmness and chaos. Enos is also wonderful – she is highly underrated, in my opinion. There’s a way she conveys all the grief and tension inside her without having to always explode or go up a level; her face is extremely expressive in that sense. Furthermore, the mood’s dark tones are set in contrast to the bleak, snowy landscape. Literary and musical allusions crop up everywhere. There are so many things converge here in this film to make it multi-layered and complex, more so than the general thrillers out there dealing with subjects such as this.
Egoyan is more interested by atmosphere and character than his with plot; he is an auteur, there is a style found in his films that is all his own. Here, beautiful Canadian settings combined with a haunting musical score help the story come to life while the characters carry most of this film. Not perfect, but worth the price of admission, and an affirmation Canadian filmmakers can make big, exciting films without crossing the border or catering to the latest box office trends.